“The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners” (110) We dare not be sinners. Bonhoeffer writes this, not as an exhortation, but as an indictment against what he saw as pious hypocrisy in the church.
Unfortunately, although it has changed form in some ways, this is still true in much of our churches today. Bonhoeffer pleads for confession of our sins, which he says will lead to the “final breakthrough in fellowship,” which “does not occur, because though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners” (110).
We commend the tax collector in Luke 18 who stood at a distance, beat his chest and cried out, “‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” (Lk 18:13). However, although we are willing to confess our sins to God, we are often not willing to confess them to each other, although we are commanded to do so in James 5:16 and other places in Scripture.
Two Dangers in Confession
There are two ditches beside the road of confession. On the one side, many churches (mine included) do not practice confession at all (maybe it sounds too Catholic to our Protestant ears). In these churches, people may confess that they are “sinful” or that they “struggle,” but will rarely admit to a specific, real sin such as looking at porn or greedily desiring someone else’s car or house. This lack of confession leads to a façade where everything looks good on the surface, but people suffer in silence and cannot bring their sins to the light. Bonhoeffer writes that “the sin concealed separated [a person] from fellowship… the sin confessed has helped him to find true fellowship with the brethren in Jesus Christ” (113).
On the other hand, some Christians take pride in ‘confessing’ all the sinful things they have seen and done, or wallow in their sin to a point where confession becomes entirely self-focused and loses its redemptive power. Bonhoeffer also recognizes this, and warns against it. “For the salvation of his soul let [the confessant] guard against ever making a pious work of his confession. If he does so, it will become the final, most abominable, vicious, and impure prostitution of the heart” (120). Rather, he says, “It is only God’s offer of grace, help, and forgiveness that could make us dare to enter the abyss of confession” (120).
Against both of these falsities: the avoidance of confession or the use of confession as self-aggrandizement, the Cross stands as an indictment. In light of God’s grace and the depravity of sin, the only way we can truly approach confession is with deep humility before God and before our brother.
Ryan Griffith, writing for Desiring God, says, “Authentic confession of sin is a mingling of humble contrition before God, faith-filled appropriation of the grace of reconciliation, and heartfelt gratitude for the satisfaction that has been accomplished in the cross of Christ.” Confession not only brings our sin to the light; it also provides an opportunity to rejoice together with our brothers and sisters in the wonders of grace and the redemption of the Cross. What joy, what peace, what depth of fellowship are we missing because we refuse to humble ourselves and confess our sins — our ugly, hidden sins — before our brothers and sisters?
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community. 1954. Fortress Press. 2015.
Griffith, Ryan. “Confessing Our Sins Together.” 26 June, 2014, www.desiringgod.org/articles/confessing- our-sins-together